Sign in with
Sign up | Sign in

Picking The Most Secure Platform

Security Threat Analysis: Interview With Dino A. Dai Zovi
By

Alan: That’s a great point. I recently submitted a request to Apple to allow selective file sharing policy on my notebook. Its fine to have file sharing enabled when I’m at home, but when I’m at a coffee shop or other public access point, I hate having to manually disable file sharing.

Dino: I really like Apple’s Network Locations feature for network configuration and I would also like it if I could associate my network security settings with it also. Windows Vista actually has a good system for this by letting the user identify networks they connect to as “Public,” “Private,” or “Work.”

Alan: Earlier this year, Steve Balmer talked about Microsoft's investigation of Webkit and ultimate decision to stick with Trident. Web developers would love to have more consistent rendering engines, but from a security standpoint, does it make sense to standardize around one set of code?

That is, last year's MacOS exploit and the iPhone exploit were both breaches in the same underlying Javascript code. Since IE8, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari use different Javascript engines, a single exploit wouldn't be able to target all of them. Or, do you think standardization is better because you can collectively pool your resources to develop more secure code?

Dino: While standardization helps create a more secure single standard, it means that any breach of it will be highly applicable to Internet systems. I believe that more diversity in computer systems helps strengthen the ecosystem against attack. Having many diverse targets decreases the profitability of malware and once it ceases being profitable, there will be much less of it.

Alan: If you had to make a recommendation: Mac, PC, or Linux?  Or do you find them to be equally (in)secure?

Dino: For most consumers and home users, I recommend a Mac because they are currently targeted less by Web malware. They also tend to be easier to use so I get less tech support calls. If a user is slightly more technical and/or adventurous, I recommend that they give Ubuntu Linux a try. I recommend Windows Vista for businesses because it is a more secure operating system and better suited towards management in the enterprise.

Alan: Any reason for Ubuntu specifically (full disclosure: I run Fedora on my Linux workstations)?

Dino: I have found Ubuntu to be more user-friendly and I personally prefer Debian-based Linux distributions to the others. But I don’t want to start any religious wars here.

Alan: For our Windows-based PC users, what are some tips for running a "secure" PC? What about our Mac users? Linux users?

Dino: PC users should move to Vista or Windows 7 as soon as possible to make use of their security features. Mac users should do the same with Snow Leopard. Linux users are already pretty well served by the leading desktop distributions, so they shouldn't need to take many additional precautions. For all of these operating systems, the National Security Agency (NSA) Systems and Network Attack Center (SNAC) freely publishes in-depth secure configuration guides that can be followed to further harden your operating system environment.

(Ed.: the NSA’s guidelines can be found here)

Display all 25 comments.
This thread is closed for comments
  • 0 Hide
    cruiseoveride , April 6, 2009 6:30 AM
    Wonder why he didnt mention SELinux
  • 0 Hide
    mrubermonkey , April 6, 2009 8:17 AM
    If it were so easy to "take down the Internet" I am sure Iran or China would have done it by now, but the vagueness of his last answer does add to the mystic of his image.
  • 0 Hide
    AlanDang , April 6, 2009 9:35 AM
    Not really -- the black hats make money off the Internet -- it doesn't help them. By definition though, the risk is always about "taking down" a few IXP's or the +1 nodes.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 6, 2009 10:02 AM
    "Selectively granting privileges to enhanced functionality to Web sites is an area where most Web browsers can improve".

    They may not be core functions but everyone I know who is concerned with security on the Internet uses Firefow with the add-ins Noscript & Flashblock.
  • 1 Hide
    vaskodogama , April 6, 2009 10:08 AM
    mrubermonkeyIf it were so easy to "take down the Internet" I am sure Iran or China would have done it by now, but the vagueness of his last answer does add to the mystic of his image.

    I am from Iran, All the Iranian Goverment can do, is blocking porn and politics web sites! :D 
    [We People mostly not believe in the goverment, and ayatollahs, because they are mostly thieves! We Stand on the ground of wealth, and they are teroring us and eat our oil and money! This is a Tech site, so i'm not gonna talk more about this! cheers!]
  • 0 Hide
    pcworm , April 6, 2009 11:14 AM
    I'm also from Iran , come one, we still connect using bloody dial up, you guys cant be serious! although due to the "no copyright" law we can buy Windows, Mathlab, VS 2008 team System,office 2007 and a lot more for less than a dollar each...:-) you dont need broadband here cause piracy is official
  • -2 Hide
    Gutbop , April 6, 2009 11:29 AM
    Dino: I'm a die-hard Unix user and Mac OS X is the most convenient and functional Unix-based operating system that I have ever used. I can code in a traditional Unix environment, watch a DVD, and use Microsoft Office all on the same system. The system JUST WORKS and lets me get my job done.

    Ahahahaha. Really!? Are you kidding me? Did Apple pay you to say that?
  • -9 Hide
    Gutbop , April 6, 2009 11:29 AM
    Dino: I'm a die-hard Unix user and Mac OS X is the most convenient and functional Unix-based operating system that I have ever used. I can code in a traditional Unix environment, watch a DVD, and use Microsoft Office all on the same system. The system JUST WORKS and lets me get my job done.

    Ahahahaha. Really!? Are you kidding me? Did Apple pay you to say that?
  • -8 Hide
    Gutbop , April 6, 2009 11:30 AM
    Dino: I'm a die-hard Unix user and Mac OS X is the most convenient and functional Unix-based operating system that I have ever used. I can code in a traditional Unix environment, watch a DVD, and use Microsoft Office all on the same system. The system JUST WORKS and lets me get my job done.

    Ahahahaha. Really!? Are you kidding me? Did Apple pay you to say that?
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 6, 2009 3:17 PM
    I am a Mac user as well. I also use many versions of Windows and Linux in VM. I am not a security expert or anything but why is everyone hung up on someone taking down the internet. Hackers use the net to make money or prove a point. I don't think they are going to shut the net down and hold it hostage, who would be forking over the money anyway. And if they did it to prove a point how would they ever get recognition for the task when all communication stops.
  • 0 Hide
    bounty , April 6, 2009 3:51 PM
    Actually if there was a country that didn't like "the west," and they wanted to disrupt our economy, the internet is the softest target. I don't see North Korea flying over and dropping bombs on our factories. I could see them taking some DNS servers out and making it real hard for those factories to sell anything. And since info flows freely via the net, it's not like you need to use a ton of resources to gain this attack vector, just a few smart people, an internet connection and some time.
  • 0 Hide
    michaelahess , April 6, 2009 4:30 PM
    DNS, the achilles heel of the net....I think I met this guy once, not sure, but a buddy of mine is in the exact same line of business, might have just heard him talking about him though.....the name just sounds so familiar, maybe he wiped my mind before we walked away.....{homer simpson} ummmm, conspiracy theories....
  • -2 Hide
    antiacid , April 6, 2009 8:13 PM
    Honestly, I found this interview short, lacking in detail and depth and strong on the evangelism.

    Sure, you can make a point of saying "we aren't on Apple's payroll" but at the end of the article, it is still a pretty big advertisement to them for no reason. The main point is that the new malwares are not based on OS flaws but on browser flaws, yet you still go out of your way to advertise the security of OSX (even going as far as speculating on tiger leopard features).

    Anyway, if the guy obviously isn't going to comment or answer a question, cut it out of the interview instead of having a longer question than the associated answer...
  • 2 Hide
    AlanDang , April 6, 2009 10:14 PM
    Browser flaws are still tied to the operating system. We bring it up because it's a natural question -- at the end of the day, there must be one computer that these security researchers are using and surprisingly, many security professionals use a Mac on a regular basis.

    By definition, I am a technology evangelist. I want to share with others the benefits of what technology can bring to the table and also what its limitations are. Fundamentally, I think that security is going to be as significant of an issue to a computer enthusiast as "cooling/thermal management" was. The threats are real and increasing. The people who claim that they have never been infected by malware are either ignorant that they have been infected or limiting their online experience by disabling flash, javascript, etc.

    Right and if we edited the comments, readers would start to cry censorship. That is the conversation we had.
  • 1 Hide
    zonezero , April 7, 2009 12:32 AM
    I have worked for several ISP's and we never see a Mac that has anything other than hardware or configuration problems. I do see on a weekly basis people with Windows computers that are infected and some that are regularly infected with the malware of the week.

    I never owned or used a Mac other than those of my customers before my current job where I was forced to use a new iMac with 10.5 installed. While I still don't like the Mac and have more repect for those who use it.

    Computers are a tool and like any tool it can be used for the wrong job or improperly used for the right job. Pick the tool that best suits you and the job you are performing.
  • 0 Hide
    zonezero , April 7, 2009 12:32 AM
    I have worked for several ISP's and we never see a Mac that has anything other than hardware or configuration problems. I do see on a weekly basis people with Windows computers that are infected and some that are regularly infected with the malware of the week.

    I never owned or used a Mac other than those of my customers before my current job where I was forced to use a new iMac with 10.5 installed. While I still don't like the Mac and have more repect for those who use it.

    Computers are a tool and like any tool it can be used for the wrong job or improperly used for the right job. Pick the tool that best suits you and the job you are performing.
  • 0 Hide
    zonezero , April 7, 2009 12:32 AM
    I have worked for several ISP's and we never see a Mac that has anything other than hardware or configuration problems. I do see on a weekly basis people with Windows computers that are infected and some that are regularly infected with the malware of the week.

    I never owned or used a Mac other than those of my customers before my current job where I was forced to use a new iMac with 10.5 installed. While I still don't like the Mac and have more repect for those who use it.

    Computers are a tool and like any tool it can be used for the wrong job or improperly used for the right job. Pick the tool that best suits you and the job you are performing.
  • 0 Hide
    Anonymous , April 7, 2009 5:48 AM
    He's cute. :p 
  • 0 Hide
    dedhorse , April 7, 2009 4:36 PM
    So basically, he uses OSX for web browsing, while all his real work is done on Vista in a VM, which tells you all you need to know about those two operating systems.
  • 1 Hide
    BillLake , April 8, 2009 7:56 PM
    Wow, no matter what is said, people defend or attack the OS based on who made it. Apple or Microsoft are just tools, OS X is only less targeted while even if Vista is more secure it is more targeted. Currently you are safe on a OS X based PC and that is what he said. No one is saying it is more secure, in fact he said and so did Charlie Miller that OS X is less secure but safer.

    If you really want to be safe, why not use a diskless system, boot off a live CD and only use that to surf the web, then the infection can only be in the memory unless you get a virus that attacks the flash prom on the system.
Display more comments